Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: The Quickening by Michelle Hoover

Told mainly through letters written by Enidina Current to her unknown grandchild, this novel set on neighboring farms in early 1900's in Iowa is tactiturn and stoic and deeply complex. Enidina tells her grandchild of the sorrow and disappointment and strength and conviction that kept company every step of the way through her young married life up until her final years. She is a plain, large and sturdy woman with enormous hands when she meets and marries her farmer husband Frank. Their hardscrabble existence is tested both by Enidina's inability to carry a baby to term and by the economic hardships of the time. Interspersed with Enidina's letters is narration by Mary, Enidina's closest neighbor, giving another perspective to the events that ultimately lead to a grief-stricken brokenness reminiscent of abandoned farms during the Depression. The two women, as different as it is possible to be within the confines of the same farming community, and married to two men who are polar opposites as well, carve out lives despite their isolation, the loneliness and the hardship they must endure.

The portrayal of the difficulties people who made their living off the land faced is realistic and bleak but loaded with truth. I'm not certain I liked the characters as people but I was fascinated by the way that proximity dictated "friendship" no matter what personality might suggest. The back and forth narration made for interesting contrasts and perhaps contributed to my ambivalence about the characters themselves. Enidina is based in part on the author's great-grandmother and she is certainly the most fully fleshed out character in the book. By contrast, Mary is predictable, unlikeable, and fully self-important (a big factor in the second attribute). But both of these characters come off as real and possible historical figures. The relationship between the women builds slowly and despite the textual evidence leading toward the ultimate reactions of the women once the climax comes, the reader is still fairly surprised by the strength and venom of the situation. Appropriately set against the seemingly featureless landscape of broad, unending plains, the novel has hidden depths and core strengths just as the plains themselves do. I found this novel powerful and stunning.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. This sounds really good! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. The realism of this novel really appeals to me. Great review!

  3. This sounds like a unique & interesting story esp. since I don't know a lot about farming, living off the land but a little bleak & depressing. It seems that you're friends are dictated more by proximity than choice & that there isn't much time for fun or much about life to enjoy. I thnik this book would make many of us grateful for our lives & what we have.

    Thanks for a thought-ptovoking iterview!
    ~ Amy

  4. It's too bad this book portrays living off the land as such a bleak and depressing thing. Certainly during the depression, it was especially difficult, but the most tangible form of security is land.


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